Tennessee Jones: Making his Mark on the Big City

Tennessee Jones: The Religious Dimensions of Social Justice in Literature, B.A., January 2008, Magna cum Laude; Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship; Jacob Javits Fellowship; Dean’s List

“I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee. Our water came from a creek spring, and my backyard was uncut wilderness. Three generations of my family lived on top of each other in a little holler, and my parents grew a tobacco crop to supplement their incomes as a sheet metal mechanic and seamstress. It was a place steeped in tradition, and though we lived on the top of the oldest mountains in the world, the horizon of opportunity was very limited.” So wrote Tennessee Jones in his application to the Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellowship, CUNY BA’s major fellowship program.

After he finished high school, Jones hitchhiked around the country and produced self-published magazines for four years; after exploring “every major city,” he knew New York was where he wanted to make his mark. By the time he came to Hunter and CUNY BA, he had considerable accomplishments to his name: publication of a book of short stories, Deliver Me From Nowhere (2005), praised in The New York Times Book Review and elsewhere, and a full-time job as an editor at Soft Skull Press. Soft Skull’s publisher credits Jones with helping take the company from “a scrappy, hit-or-miss operation to one of the more culturally significant independent publishers in the U.S,” adding that he was delighted to learn of Jones’ plan to apply to the CUNY BA because he “would be a perfect individual for a self-directed plan of study.”

Jones’ concentration uses the lens of literature and the practice of creative writing to examine the dynamics of oppressed communities. Under the direction of Prof. Barbara Sproul, Religion, Hunter, Jones’ area was made up of courses in Africana Studies, Religion and English. He included an independent study in Religion and an individual tutorial with Prof Harriet Luria, English, Hunter; both were for work on his current novel in progress, an exploration of the lives of three working class girls growing up in eastern Kentucky. Jones has been accepted to the MFA program at Hunter College.